President Trump’s budget has had several critics point out the deep cuts to various programs. It cuts the State Department, Medicaid, SNAP or food stamps programs, and several others. Much of it pays for an increase in military spending.
But another rather subtle cut in Trump’s budget some have overlooked could directly affect elderly veterans in the United States. The Individual Unemployability benefit, a significant portion of some veterans’ income, is on the chopping board. All of this pays for an expansion of the VA’s Veteran’s Choice Program.
Trump’s Budget Cuts And The Veteran’s Choice Program
The Veteran’s Choice Program started under the Obama administration in 2014. It was intended to assist veterans suffering from long wait times or long distances from the nearest VA hospital. Congress extended it, and the President signed it earlier this year.
The VCP allowed veterans who suffered from these issues to find private care with the assistance of the VA. The idea was supposed to be short-term. The VA would regroup and fix issues with long wait times. In the meantime, it would allow veterans who were suffering long wait times to seek private coverage elsewhere. With the renewal of the program and cuts to other parts of the VA as offsets, it is clear that the Republican party wants to try and shift veterans off of the VA healthcare system. One way they are going to pay for this expansion of the VCP is by severely limiting a beneficial assistance program to veterans known as the individual unemployability benefit.
The Individual Unemployability Benefit
As reported by Military.com, right now, several elderly veterans receive assistance from the Veterans Administration in the form of an individual unemployability benefit. The IU benefit is a payment of on average $22,000 a year, per recipient. Roughly 225,000 veterans receive this benefit. The way it works is veterans are eligible for 100% disability benefits under the program if they had a service-connected disability which means a disability that was a result of their military service.
The VA’s idea is to allow elderly veterans, once they reach eligibility for Social Security, to be taken off the IU payment program, and only accept Social Security payments. The problem with that, as Congressman Mark Takano (D-Hawaii) has stated, is veterans who have been receiving the IU payment, and have not been employed because of it, have not been paying into Social Security or a 401k plan. Therefore they will not gain any benefit from this switch; in fact, it will decrease the amount of money they have coming in. They would get significantly less to live off of from Social Security, risking an increase in Veterans plunged into poverty.
More Than Lip Service
We cannot only pay lip service to our veterans. Trump’s budget cuts and the veteran’s choice program was intended to be a temporary fix to a much larger problem of increased veteran wait times and backlogs to get hospital visits. Cutting the IU and extending the VCP is a quick fix that will hurt more than it will help.